After a sketch by Godfrey Kneller
|Born||30 June 1685|
|Died||4 December 1732 47) (aged|
|Known for||Poetry, drama, ballad opera|
|The Beggar's Opera|
|Patron(s)||William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath; The third Earl of Burlington; Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry; Prince William, Duke of Cumberland|
John Gay (30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732) was an English poet and dramatist and member of the Scriblerus Club. He is best remembered for The Beggar's Opera (1728), a ballad opera. The characters, including Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum, became household names.
Gay was born in Barnstaple, England, and was educated at the town's grammar school. On leaving school he was apprenticed to a silk mercer in London, but being weary, according to Samuel Johnson, "of either the restraint or the servility of his occupation", he soon returned to Barnstaple, where he was educated by his uncle, the Rev. John Hanmer, the nonconformist minister of the town. He then returned to London.
The dedication of his Rural Sports (1713) to Alexander Pope was the beginning of a lasting friendship. In 1714, Gay wrote The Shepherd's Week, a series of six pastorals drawn from English rustic life. Pope had urged him to undertake this task in order to ridicule the Arcadian pastorals of Ambrose Philips, who had been praised by a short-lived contemporary publication The Guardian , to the neglect of Pope's claims as the first pastoral writer of the age and the true English Theocritus. Gay's pastorals achieved this goal and his ludicrous pictures of the English country lads and their loves were found to be entertaining on their own account.
Gay had just been appointed secretary to the British ambassador to the court of Hanover through the influence of Jonathan Swift when the death of Anne, Queen of Great Britain, three months later put an end to all his hopes of official employment.
In 1715, probably with some help from Pope, he produced What D'Ye Call It?, a dramatic skit on contemporary tragedy, with special reference to Thomas Otway's Venice Preserv'd . It left the public so ignorant of its inner meaning that Lewis Theobald and Benjamin Griffin published a Complete Key to What D'Ye Call It to explain it. In 1716 appeared his Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London, a poem in three books, for which he acknowledged having received several hints from Swift. It contains graphic and humorous descriptions of the London of that period. It depicts the city with photographic accuracy, but also acts as a guide to the upper-class and upper-middle-class walkers of society. By taking a mock-heroic form, Gay's poem was able to poke fun at the notion of complete reformation of street civility while also proposing an idea of reform in terms of the attitude towards walking. In January 1717 he produced a comedy, Three Hours After Marriage , which was thought to be grossly indecent (without being amusing) and a failure. He had assistance from Pope and John Arbuthnot, but they allowed it to be assumed that Gay was the sole author.
Gay had numerous patrons, and in 1720 he published Poems on Several Occasions by subscription, taking in £1000 or more. In that year James Craggs, the secretary of state, presented him with some South Sea stock. Gay, disregarding the advice of Pope and others of his friends, invested all his money in South Sea stock, and, holding on to the end of the South Sea Bubble, he lost everything. The shock is said to have made him dangerously ill. His friends did not fail him at this juncture. He had patrons in William Pulteney, afterwards Earl of Bath, in the third Earl of Burlington, who constantly entertained him at Chiswick or at Burlington House, and in the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry. He was a frequent visitor with Pope, and received unvarying kindness from William Congreve and John Arbuthnot. In 1727 he wrote for six-year-old Prince William, later the Duke of Cumberland, Fifty-one Fables in Verse, for which he naturally hoped to gain some preferment, although he has much to say in them of the servility of courtiers and the vanity of court honours. He was offered the situation of gentleman-usher to the Princess Louisa, who was also still a child. He refused this offer, which all his friends seem to have regarded as an indignity. He had never rendered any special services to the court.
He certainly did nothing to conciliate the favour of the government by his next work, The Beggar's Opera , a ballad opera produced on the 29 January 1728 by John Rich, in which Sir Robert Walpole was caricatured. This famous piece, which was said to have made "Rich gay and Gay rich", was an innovation in many respects. The satire of the play has a double allegory. The character of Peachum was inspired by the thief-taker Jonathan Wild, executed in 1725, and the principal figure of Macheath reflected memories of the French highwayman, Claude Duval, whose execution had created a sensation in London, and who exemplified the flamboyance and gallantry of Gay's literary hero. Gay's decision to launch the work was probably also influenced by the huge interest that Jack Sheppard, a cockney housebreaker, had created in all things relating to Newgate Prison. However, the character of Peachum was also understood to represent Robert Walpole, who, like Wild, was seen as a public but morally dubious character, and whose government had been tolerant of Wild's thievery and the South Sea directors' escape from punishment. Under cover of the thieves and highwaymen who figured in it was disguised a satire on society, for Gay made it plain that in describing the moral code of his characters he had in mind the corruptions of the governing class. Part of the success of The Beggar's Opera may have been due to the acting of Lavinia Fenton, afterwards Duchess of Bolton, in the part of Polly Peachum. The play ran for sixty-two nights. Swift is said to have suggested the subject, and Pope and Arbuthnot were constantly consulted while the work was in progress, but Gay must be regarded as the sole author. After seeing an early version of the work, Swift was optimistic of its commercial prospects but famously warned Gay to be cautious with his earnings: "I beg you will be thrifty and learn to value a shilling."
He wrote a sequel, Polly , relating the adventures of Polly Peachum in the West Indies; its production was forbidden by the Lord Chamberlain, no doubt through the influence of Walpole. This act of "oppression" caused no loss to Gay. It proved an excellent advertisement for Polly, which was published by subscription in 1729, and brought its author several thousand pounds. The Duchess of Queensberry was dismissed from court for enlisting subscribers in the palace. The Duke of Queensberry gave Gay a home, and the duchess continued her affectionate patronage until Gay's death in London on 4 December 1732. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. The epitaph on his tomb is by Pope, and is followed by Gay's own mocking couplet:
Life is a jest, and all things show it,
I thought so once, but now I know it.
Among Gay's works are:
Jake Arnott features John Gay heavily in his 2017 novel The Fatal Tree.
The Threepenny Opera is a "play with music" by Bertolt Brecht, adapted from a translation by Elisabeth Hauptmann of John Gay's 18th-century English ballad opera, The Beggar's Opera, and four ballads by François Villon, with music by Kurt Weill. Although there is debate as to how much, if any, Hauptmann might have contributed to the text, Brecht is usually listed as sole author.
John Arbuthnot FRS, often known simply as Dr Arbuthnot, was a Scottish physician, satirist and polymath in London. He is best remembered for his contributions to mathematics, his membership in the Scriblerus Club, and for inventing the figure of John Bull.
The Beggar's Opera is a ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay with music arranged by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It is one of the watershed plays in Augustan drama and is the only example of the once thriving genre of satirical ballad opera to remain popular today. Ballad operas were satiric musical plays that used some of the conventions of opera, but without recitative. The lyrics of the airs in the piece are set to popular broadsheet ballads, opera arias, church hymns and folk tunes of the time.
In Latin literature, Augustan poetry is the poetry that flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus as Emperor of Rome, most notably including the works of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. In English literature, Augustan poetry is a branch of Augustan literature, and refers to the poetry of the 18th century, specifically the first half of the century. The term comes most originally from a term that George I had used for himself. He saw himself as an Augustus. Therefore, the British poets picked up that term as a way of referring to their own endeavors, for it fit in another respect: 18th-century English poetry was political, satirical, and marked by the central philosophical problem of whether the individual or society took precedence as the subject of verse.
Lavinia Powlett, Duchess of Bolton, known by her stagename as Lavinia Fenton, was an English actress.
Augustan literature is a style of British literature produced during the reigns of Queen Anne, King George I, and George II in the first half of the 18th century and ending in the 1740s, with the deaths of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, in 1744 and 1745, respectively. It was a literary epoch that featured the rapid development of the novel, an explosion in satire, the mutation of drama from political satire into melodrama and an evolution toward poetry of personal exploration. In philosophy, it was an age increasingly dominated by empiricism, while in the writings of political economy, it marked the evolution of mercantilism as a formal philosophy, the development of capitalism and the triumph of trade.
The ballad opera is a genre of English stage entertainment that originated in the early 18th century, and continued to develop over the following century and later. Like the earlier comédie en vaudeville and the later Singspiel, its distinguishing characteristic is the use of tunes in a popular style with spoken dialogue. These English plays were 'operas' mainly insofar as they satirized the conventions of the imported opera seria. Music critic Peter Gammond describes the ballad opera as "an important step in the emancipation of both the musical stage and the popular song."
Leonard Welsted was an English poet and "dunce" in Alexander Pope's writings. Welsted was an accomplished writer who composed in a relaxed, light hearted vein. He was associated with Whig party political figures in his later years, but he was tory earlier, and, in the age of patronage, this seems to have been more out of financial need than anything else.
The Beggar's Opera is a 1953 Technicolor film version of John Gay's 1728 ballad opera directed by Peter Brook and starring Laurence Olivier, Dorothy Tutin, Stanley Holloway and others. Olivier and Holloway do their own singing in this film, but Dorothy Tutin and several others were dubbed. This was Laurence Olivier's only film musical.
Augustan drama can refer to the dramas of Ancient Rome during the reign of Caesar Augustus, but it most commonly refers to the plays of Great Britain in the early 18th century, a subset of 18th-century Augustan literature. King George I referred to himself as "Augustus," and the poets of the era took this reference as apropos, as the literature of Rome during Augustus moved from historical and didactic poetry to the poetry of highly finished and sophisticated epics and satire.
Imminent, Indeed is a gothic adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. Written and directed by Bryn Manion with the assistance of Wendy Remington, and leading man, Sam. Produced by the Creatives and the founding board members of the company of Aisling Arts. This adaptation focuses on Polly Peachum's side of the story and her world as it trips alongside that of Jenny Diver, a new Peachum brother, several comically nefarious underlings, and of course, the ever villainous Henry Macheath.
Beggar's Holiday is a musical with a book and lyrics by John La Touche and music by Duke Ellington. It was Ellington's only book musical produced on Broadway.
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature.
Maria, Lady Walpole was the second wife of British politician and Prime Minister Robert Walpole from before 3 March 1738 until her death in childbirth (miscarriage) three months later. She was buried on the Walpole estate at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England.
Captain Macheath is a fictional character who appears both in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), its sequel Polly (1777), and roughly 150 years later in Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera (1928).
George Frideric Handel was the house composer at Cannons from August 1717 until February 1719. The Chandos Anthems and other important works by Handel were conceived, written or first performed at Cannons.
Polly is a ballad opera with text by John Gay and music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It is a sequel to Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Due to censorship, the opera was not performed in Gay's lifetime. It had its world premiere on 19 June 1777 at the Haymarket Theatre in London. A revised and edited version of the score by Clifford Bax and Frederic Austin premiered on 30 December 1922 at the Kingsway Theatre in London.
John Durant Breval was a miscellaneous writer.
Catherine Hyde, afterwards Duchess of Queensberry, was an English socialite in London and a patron of the dramatist John Gay.
Hannah Norsa was an English Jewish actress and singer, who achieved fame appearing in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera in 1732 and became the mistress of Robert Walpole, 2nd Earl of Orford.
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